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Hungarian Government Takes Control of Research Institutes

On July 2, 2019, Hungarian lawmakers passed a controversial legislation “described” as academic reform, but widely perceived as the continuation of the Orban’s efforts to seize control of higher education institutions. While the government claims that its aim is to make research more innovative, the law, which transfers ownership of the institutes’ properties to the new government-run Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH), has prompted international outcry and has raised concerns about academic freedom in Hungary.


Participants of the demonstration titled 'Academic Workers' Forum Life Chain for Science' gather in front of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) headquarters to protest against the planned reorganisation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019(Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP, File)


The bill creates a new organizational and financing model for the research, development, and innovation sector and was passed by 131 MPs, with 53 votes against and 3 abstentions in the 199-seat Parliament.


László Palkovics, Minister of Innovation and Technology, the person who submitted the bill, said the goal of the planned changes is to boost Hungary’s competitiveness by facilitating more efficient operation and creating a performance-based distribution of resources.


The bill gives the government control of a vast network of research institutes currently run by the two-century-old Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA). Their research funding will be allocated by the newly established Eötvös Loránd Research Network, the board members of which will be appointed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.


In order for its operation, this “new” network would absorb the Academy’s properties, part of its central administration, and its winning grants and scholarships.


Palkovics stressed that the new body is not controlled or directed by the government.


In a statement, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences stated that,

The government justified its move, which would transform the entire system of Hungarian scientific life, by saying that the bill would pave the way for the framework of a new science and innovation policy. Furthermore, it would also contribute to the renewal of the RDI system and lay the foundations for the funding of this new innovation and science policy as well as for exploratory and applied research.

However, the Hungarian scientific community has made it abundantly clear that it is against the government’s plan relating to the Academy. The reasons for this are simple: the bill stands in contrast with basic European research funding principles and seriously endangers academic freedom.

Scientists and researchers turned to President János Áder with a plea to refer the law back to Parliament; however, instead, he surprisingly ratified it on July 12, 2019


Last month, thousands of scientists and their supporters demonstrated in Budapest against the proposed law. They said the takeover was unconstitutional and that it threatened scientists’ autonomy. In the past six months, scores of academies, universities, research institutes, and other scientific communities from across the world—including Endangered Scholars Worldwide—have joined in condemning the Hungarian government’s actions against the country’s higher education.


On July 1, 2019, the heads of Germany’s ten leading research organizations—including the Max Planck Society, its prestigious basic-research organization—wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, warning that the changes would harm science.



The planned restructuring could lead to a considerable decline in competitiveness and, as a result, a loss of quality… The decisive factor is—and will always be—scientific freedom guaranteed through legislation and resources.


Orbán and Co. Continue to Stifle Institutes of Higher Education


Last year, Budapest's Central European University (CEU), which fought for 20 months to secure its continued presence in the Hungarian capital, was pushed out of the country in an “arbitrary eviction” that violated academic freedom.

The Orbán government also has an ongoing offensive against civil society organizations. The new legislation—so-called “Stop Soros” by the Hungarian authorities—“criminalizes any assistance offered by any person on behalf of national, international, and non-governmental organizations to people wishing to apply for asylum or for a residence permit in Hungary.”

In April, the Association of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies expressed in a collective letter with other organizations grave concern about the increasingly restrictive climate for academic inquiry and scholarly research in Hungary.

Endangered Scholars Worldwide deplores and condemns the outrageous and unforgivable act of the Hungarian government against the academic community. We join other academic, intellectual, and political leaders in Europe, the US, and other regions who object to this assault on the country’s research institutes. We believe that Orban’s government’s actions are flagrant and unjust violations of the freedom and autonomy of institutes of higher education.

We call upon all European governments, the US Department of State, international organizations, university presidents, academic and professional associations, student groups, and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to protest and condemn the Hungarian government’s actions. We must create a stable legal environment in which independent thought and inquiry can flourish.

ESW urges the officials of the Hungarian government to respect, guarantee, and implement the provisions and principles of autonomy of higher education as specified in the international conventions and treaties to which Hungary has long been a signatory.

Please send appeals to the following:

Viktor Orbán

Prime Minister 1357 Budapest, Pf. 6.

Hungary E-mail: miniszterelnok@me.gov.hu

Zoltán KOVÁCS

International Spokesperson

Tel: +36 1 896 1905

Fax: +36 1 795 0410

Email: intcomm@mk.gov.hu


István Mikola

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

1027 Budapest, Bem rakpart 47.

Hungary

Phone: +36 1 458 1000

Fax: +36 1 212 5918


Michael R. Pompeo

United States Secretary of State

Office of Foreign Missions

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520 USA

Email: OFMInfo@state.gov


David B. Cornstein

Ambassador of the United States to Hungary

Embassy of the United States

Szabadság tér 12, 1054

Budapest, Hungary

Fax: +36 1 475 4400


Kishore Singh

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

Palais des Nations

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Email: sreducation@ohchr.org


David Kaye

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and

protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Palais des Nations

CH-1211 Geneva 10

Switzerland

Fax: +41 22 917 9006

Email: freedex@ohchr.org


Federica Mogherini

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security

Policy

European Commission

Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200

1049 Brussels

Belgium


Thorbjørn Jagland

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Council of Europe

Avenue de l'Europe

F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex

France

Fax: + 33 3 88 41 27 99


Philippe Boillat

Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law

Council of Europe

Avenue de l'Europe

F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex

France

Fax: + 33 3 88 41 27 99